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The River, By Moonlight
Excerpt from Chapter One


Nuala awakened her, coming into her room without even knocking, saying, “Sorry, missus, but there’s a telephone call.” For an instant, Henrietta clung to the comfort of sleep, to the pleasure of the dream she would not later remember. But Nuala would not let her be. “Missus,” she repeated, “the fella says it’s urgent.”

The “urgent” did it, the word a brush fire in her mind, clearing it of everything but the fear it left in its wake. Alert now, Henrietta sat up and allowed Nuala to help her out of bed and into her robe and slippers. Ignoring the erratic thud of her heart cautioning her to move slowly, she hurried down the stairs, clutching the wooden banister for support, thinking as she went, It’s Lily, something’s happened to Lily; then, just as quickly, fighting back the rising tide of dread, telling herself, Don’t be foolish. It won’t be anything too awful. A wrong number perhaps. It was just past six o’clock in the morning.

The black candlestick telephone sat on the oak table in the center hall between the Tiffany lamp and silver desk set. The receiver was off the hook. Picking it up, she held it to her ear and said into the round mouthpiece, “Henrietta Canning speaking.”

“Mrs. Canning? I’m Detective Malone. New York City Police Department.” She could hear the beat of her heart, the rasp of her breath, the detective’s voice, halting and apologetic, difficult to understand at times because of the crackling on the wire, telling her that at shortly before midnight a young woman had entered (that was the word he used, absurd as it was) the Hudson River from a slip at the Columbia Yacht Club at Eighty-sixth Street in Manhattan. “A vagrant walking along the New York Central tracks saw her go in,” the detective said, though jump in was what he meant, Henrietta knew. “The man raised an alarm, and attempted a rescue, but . . . by the time he found her and pulled her back to shore, it was too late.”

“What has this to do with me?” Henrietta asked. She was surprised by how calm her own voice sounded, and how faint, as if she were hearing it from a vast distance.

In the woman’s purse, the detective explained, among other belongings, was a key to a room in the Pelham Hotel. “We found that the room was registered in the name of your daughter, I believe. Miss Lily Canning?”


“Do you know where she might be?”

Henrietta fought back the tears, the desire to scream. “In her room there, sound asleep, I should imagine,” she said, her voice steady, confident. “There must be some mistake. Someone’s confused the numbers.”

“I’m afraid not, ma’am.” When they got no response to their knocking, the police had entered the room, and the night clerk had absolutely identified its contents as belonging to Miss Canning, said the detective. He sounded as if he would rather be talking to just about anyone but her, thought Henrietta. He sounded like a very nice young man. “Of course, there’s always the chance the purse was stolen, and your daughter is . . . elsewhere.”

“Yes. I’m certain that’s it,” Henrietta said, determined to grasp whatever straws blew her way. “No doubt she decided to spend the night with friends.” Teddy and Alice, she thought. Lily’s stayed over at their studio. Or she’s with Edmund. If she were not so frightened, Henrietta would have laughed at the relief she felt at the idea of it when, at any other time, she would have been overcome with anger, and shame. Edmund!

“I’m sorry to have to ask you this, ma’am, and it may well be a waste of your time, but could you come to New York? Today, if possible? We have to try to identify the . . .” He had been about to say body, or worse, corpse; instead, he finished lamely, “the young lady.” After again giving her his name, and his number, which Henrietta wrote down carefully with the pen from the desk set, he said, “If you’d let me know when you’ve made your travel arrangements, I’d appreciate it.”

Her hand was barely shaking, Henrietta noticed as she replaced the receiver and put the telephone down; but then, however cynical experience might have made Detective Malone, it was not her custom to believe the worst until she must. The whole matter was undoubtedly a mistake, a ghastly mistake. Lily’s purse had been stolen. She was with friends. She was safe. That was the only reasonable thing to think. Turning toward Nuala, who hovered anxiously near the steps leading down to the kitchen, Henrietta said, “They think something might have happened to Lily. Silly girl. Out gallivanting when she ought to be getting a good night’s rest.” Again her voice sounded very faint, very distant. Go back upstairs, get dressed, go to New York, she urged herself, but she could not seem to move. Please, dear God, she thought. Please. Don’t let it be Lily.